Written by Steve from Aeons Abyss
“To the legions watching us from every corner of this planet, tonight we show our collective strength. Despite the challenges we face, and the plagues we endure, we gather here tonight in this unholy church in celebration of black metal magic. We are together, and together we shall conquer all…” Nergal
And thus was spoken by Nergal, the front man of Blackened Death Metal Kings, Behemoth.
As everyone will attest, 2020 has been a real fucker of a year for metal, and for live music in particular, and it’s all due to a one in a hundred year plague. Yep, who would have thought…
Going to a Metal show; something that we’ve all just taken for granted, something that is the livelihood of many, the driving spirit, the community, dare I say the religion of Metalheads worldwide, disappeared in a flash.
During this time, many musicians and artists have tried to stay active and relevant. The age of social media has at least provided a window for music to continue, and for fans to connect in different ways with their favourite artists. A lot has been done in a living room capacity, and it has been awesome to see the likes of Sepultura jamming out weekly tracks, and collabs like Gwar / Black Dahlia / Suicidal Tendencies members covering a Cannibal Corpse song. My band, Aeons Abyss, has even had a crack with few live playthroughs. But these only go so far, and don’t do much for the millions of people and businesses who rely on the entertainment industry as their profession and livelihood.
Despite all this, some bands have the ability to pioneer and take things to the next level. The creative force and talent of Behemoth, who have the resources to back their artistic visions, are one of these next level entities.
So when Behemoth announced “In Absentia Dei”, with commentary along the lines of “An immersive worldwide streamed event for A New Aeon, where there will be ritual, there will be sacrilege, and all from the comfort of your home”, I was pumped big time, and threw my support behind the event and bought a ticket.
Set in a character filled abandoned private church in Poland, with the location kept secret so that the show could not be shut down by the authorities, things kicked off with an ominous black and white sequence, with the band riding to the church on horseback, before entering the “unholy” cathedral through a burning gate. Off the bat, the atmosphere was equivalent to a Hollywood horror movie. Set over 4 Acts that were interspersed with fire dancers, acrobats and even a mock crucifixion via piercings, hooks and ropes, this was absolutely the spectacle it promised to be. You know you are watching something awesome when the bass player walks from the venue and shoots a burning arrow to light up some inverted crosses … and not to mention a finale that sets off an effect to make it appear that the very church the band is playing in is burning with the fires of hell.
Inside, the space where Behemoth setup was perfect. Lights streamed in from some old windows from high above, flames burned and scorched in front and within the performance space, mist filled the air to set off an impeccable lighting show, and the rich deep colours dripped continually from the screen, wrapping everything up in brilliant 4K.
The camera selections by the director showed a flair for the dramatic and the band used their space in a way that was always theatrical, and exhibited that Nergal and his posse had complete control of their performance, with commanding movement throughout (never coming across as overly choreographed). At times, the cameras would go outside of the church, both from ground level and aerially via the use of a drone, and iconography and images from the band’s catalogue were sporadically integrated into the visuals throughout the performance to very clever effect.
Everything always looked stunningly evil and absolutely brilliant. The reds, blues and misty whites were like glue to your eyeballs and allowed your brain to soak in a visual feast that had the power to leave an everlasting imprint. I recall one moment, where the lighting was used to create beams of light that made an upside down 5-pointed star, with the band standing within the light streams.
The setlist was killer, and the ebb and flow of the performance was on point and really did create a situation where you could fully immerse with the music. Notable highlights were Lucifer, especially, with Orion’s outrageous headgear, and with the band positioning themselves with Nergal central, and Orion and Patryk Sztyber either side, standing on some scattered ruins within the church, like demons on podiums who have emerged from hell to be worshipped by their minions … and then as a band, just sinking into the song’s final riff, which builds a repetitive mesmeric groove that is an absolute earworm.
I always enjoy Behemoth songs that work really well live and provide an opportunity for Nergal to interact with the crowd; Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer, Chant for Eschaton 2000, and As Above So Below, were some standouts. and these tracks, which I love, all certainly lived up to my expectations. The performance of Bartzabel also deserves a special mention, delivered in a seemingly slowed down pace, and of course with Nergal in his over the top unholy papal headdress … & why not drum with some hefty bones? In truth, I could talk about all the songs, because they literally smashed them from the church, straight to the depths of a majestic fiery hell.
In terms of performance, there was a definite live groove, and the songs were delivered pretty much flawlessly. Behemoth are so very good live – having seen them in Melbourne in 2019 at Download Festival, and from watching many YouTube videos of them performing, they just nail their shows. The sound out of the mixing board had the right amount of bile and venom compared to the studio outputs, which again is what you want to hear from a band playing live. I also really enjoyed seeing Nergal do his guitar solos for some of their earlier tracks; nothing overly complicated, just really well constructed music, delivered with intelligence and craft. Finally, It would also be remiss of me not to mention the band’s costumes. It’s like they were made for this setting … and anyone that can pull off the headdresses that these guys wear certainly deserve all the praise they get.
The Final Word – It is fair to say that this spectacle has set a new benchmark for what is capable for a live streamed performance. Not many bands would be capable of pulling off this level of artistic genius, with such high quality visuals and sound. When this plague eventually ends, we will look back at ‘In Absentia Dei’ as one of the few bright spots of 2020, and for that, and for their ability to create in such a way that is pretty close to perfection within the world of Metal, we have Behemoth to thank.
Rating – Brilliant Evil Genius